Bush would export nuclear fuel and power plants to developing nations

Posted: 20 February 2006

Nuclear power is the primary focus of his plan to wean the United States off fossil fuels and give developing countries the electricity they need, President George W. Bush said in his radio address to the nation on Saturday. The President's plan would divide nations into two classes - nuclear fuel supplier nations and user nations.

In President Bush's view, nuclear power is "safe and clean" and it generates "large amounts of low-cost electricity without emitting air pollution or greenhouse gases."

President George W. Bush giving a radio address. Photo: Eric Draper/The White House
President George W. Bush giving a radio address. Photo: Eric Draper/The White House
President George W. Bush gives one of his weekly Saturday morning radio addresses© Eric Draper/The White House
The President acknowledged two problems with the expansion of nuclear power. "We must dispose of nuclear waste safely," he said, "and we must keep nuclear technology and material out of the hands of terrorist networks and terrorist states."

President Bush proposes to solve these problems with a new plan called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership announced with his Fiscal Year 2007 budget earlier this month.

"Under this partnership," the President said Saturday, "America will work with nations that have advanced civilian nuclear energy programs, such as France, Japan, and Russia."

"Together, we will develop and deploy innovative, advanced reactors and new methods to recycle spent nuclear fuel. This will allow us to produce more energy, while dramatically reducing the amount of nuclear waste and eliminating the nuclear byproducts that unstable regimes or terrorists could use to make weapons."

Nuclear plan

The Bush administration's Fiscal Year 2007 budget includes $250 million to launch this plan as part of the administration's overall $632 million request for the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology to spend on nuclear technology research, development, and infrastructure.

The United States has not built a new nuclear power plant since the 1970s, said the President in his radio address, pointing out that France has built 58 nuclear power plants during that time period and now gets about 78 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power.

The United States' newest nuclear reactor is Watts Bar 1 - 10 miles south of Spring City, Tennessee. Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The United States' newest nuclear reactor is Watts Bar 1 - 10 miles south of Spring City, Tennessee. Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The United States' newest nuclear reactor is Watts Bar 1 located 10 miles south of Spring City, Tennessee.© Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Yet, while no new plants has been built during that time, the United States has had five new nuclear plants come on-line since 1990. The most recent is the Watts Bar 1 nuclear reactor located between Chattanooga and Knoxville and operated by the federal government's Tennessee Valley Authority, which came on-line February 7, 1996.

Still, President Bush is determined to encourage the nuclear industry to build more power plants, saying, "Our goal is to start the construction of new nuclear power plants by the end of this decade."

The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership includes five elements that are projected to meet the energy needs of the United States - building a new generation of nuclear power plants in the United States, developing and deploying new nuclear recycling technologies, managing and storing spent nuclear fuel in the United States, designing Advance Burner Reactors that would produce energy from recycled nuclear fuel, and enhancing resistance to nuclear proliferation.

Exporting nuclear power

Two elements of the plan are aimed at giving nuclear power to developing nations. The United States and partners would establish a fuel services program for developing nations, and in addition, the nuclear fuel supplier nations would develop and construct what the President calls "small scale reactors" designed for the needs of developing countries.

"As these technologies are developed," the President said Saturday, "we will work with our partners to help developing countries meet their growing energy needs by providing them with small scale reactors that will be secure and cost-effective. We will also ensure that these developing nations have a reliable nuclear fuel supply."

"In exchange," he said, "these countries would agree to use nuclear power only for civilian purposes and forego uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities that can be used to develop nuclear weapons."

Today, light water reactors dominate the commercial use of nuclear power, geared to large national markets with big electricity grids.

Countries with smaller grids and less well-developed technical infrastructures that now burn fossil fuels could use a different, smaller, reactor design, the Bush administration believes.

These smaller reactors could incorporate fuel designs that offer very long-life fuel loads that might last the entire life of the reactor so that refueling is not needed, the US Energy Department explains on its Global Nuclear Energy Partnership website.

The smaller reactors might have remote monitoring, physical protection against sabotage and other terrorist acts, standardized designs in the 50 to 350 MWe range, potential for district heating and potable water production, fully passive safety systems, simple operation that requires minimal in-country nuclear infrastructure, use of as much existing licensed or certified technology as possible, and use of advanced manufacturing techniques.

Today, there are no fully developed or installed reactors that have all these features, the US Energy Department acknowledges.

Under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership plan an international fuel services consortium of "fuel supplier nations" would choose to operate both nuclear power plants and fuel production and handling facilities. They would provide "reliable" fuel services to "user nations" that choose only to operate nuclear power plants.

This is a shortened version of a report which first appeared on Environment News Service.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Related link:

The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership